Music News

Gary Numan

When Gary Numan discovered synthesizers in the late '70s and placed them above guitars in his personal pantheon, he likely had very little idea that he was unleashing a wave of electronic influence that would continue to the end of the century. Numan's clever blending of punk's energy and bleak world view with the bombast of synthesizers (which to that point had been the instrument of choice for bloated prog-rockers) was a stroke of genius. The most tangible result was Numan's brief stint as a pop-chart oddity ("Are "Friends' Electric?," "Down in the Park," "Cars") as his dense, robotic rhythms and impassioned yet bloodless vocals coexisted alongside the stripped-down, three-chord youth manifestos of his peers.

Numan's reign was relatively brief but monumentally influential. His ultimate impact on the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Depeche Mode, Marilyn Manson, and a host of others seems split between those who saw his appeal from a purely pop perspective and those who came away with an attraction to his more subversive nature. In many ways Numan was equally responsible for the synth-pop new wave of the '80s and the distortion-fueled goth metal of the '90s, and via second-generation influence, left his mark on electronica.

Pure, his first album since 1997's Exile, gives voice to his harder side with a snarling synthetic undercurrent and some of the most blistering guitar ever heard on a Gary Numan album. There are moments of eerie calm, as on the majestic balladry of "One Perfect Lie" and the whispered dread of "Rip," while the other end of the spectrum offers subtly punishing anthems like "Listen to My Voice" and "Torn." Straddling the line between those two sonic outposts are the many tracks that offer equal measures of each extreme, especially the title cut, the astonishing gothic beauty of "Walking With Shadows," and the cautionary abortion tale "Little Invitro."

Although Numan has never really been gone, he's been out of the spotlight long enough that many in the industry will look at Pure as a comeback, but it's much more complex than that. Combining his basic ideas from more than 20 years ago and the technological trappings that have evolved in the interim, Numan has created a tribute to the synthetic-rock bands he inspired in the first place.

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Brian Baker